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Time to get back into the fantasy baseball groove starting with some 2019 draft prep. Luck plays a big role in fantasy baseball, but it takes a good deal of preparation to take home a championship. My Top 200 rankings will give you a strong foundation for your draft, but I encourage you to research other stats and rankings as well. This article will explain my criteria for these rankings, analyze some of the more controversially ranked players, and provide some insight into draft strategies for all kinds of scoring formats.
These rankings are most applicable to Rotisserie 5x5 scoring (AVG, HR, RBI, R, SB -- W, SV, ERA, WHIP, K). HOWEVER, I do consider these rankings to be very useful for most other formats as well because I heavily account for advanced metrics.
In order of importance, the main factors I consider for players are:
Health / Age
Ballpark / Lineup Protection
Position eligibility is based on ESPN criteria
Before taking a closer look at individual players, I’ll give a brief overview of my thought process.
First off, a list of 200 players is likely not going to help you with the back end of the draft, but it will give you a good idea of how to approach the most important parts of the draft. I decided to focus more on the impact players than the late round sleepers, but they are still important.
For my research, I primarily use Fangraphs because I love the diversity of stats and filters for sorting. I also refer to Baseball Savant for Statcast data, Pitcher List for their original Volatility Performance Ratio (VPR) stat for pitchers, and Rotowire for player news.
I tried to evenly distribute the amount of players at each position. I rank starting pitchers more aggressively than some other rankings because I view it as the most irreplaceable position in the late rounds/waiver wire. I will talk more about strength of positions in the draft strategies section.
Here’s a breakdown of the Top 200 by position (including position overlap) :
Now for the player analysis. If there are any players in particular you’d like me to write about, let me know on twitter @beattheshiftBP.
Chris Sale (#5 overall, #1 SP)
I ranked Chris Sale ahead of the fantasy community’s consensus #1 SP Max Scherzer. Scherzer has earned a Mike Trout level of trust in terms of output, but Sale is better than everyone on a per batter basis. In 158 innings pitched in 2018, Sale led all starting pitchers (min 150 IP) in K% (38.4), WHIP (0.86), and xFIP (2.31). Since joining the Red Sox, he somehow became even more dominant than he already was. 2 main changes were his pitch usage and increased fastball velocity. With the Red Sox, he increased his slider usage by almost 10%. Even with him using his fastball less, in 2018 he broke out an upper 90s fastball reminiscent of his younger days as a reliever. He topped out with 100+ mph on multiple occasions, which is higher than any point in his career. Sale is reportedly fully healthy and unrestricted for spring training, so I am no more concerned about the 30 year old Sale’s health than any of his older counterparts.
Aaron Judge (#11 overall, #4 OF)
The 2017 rookie sensation and MVP snub Aaron Judge had a relatively boring sophomore season in 2018. Considering Judge is entering his age 27 season and we’ve already seen a 50+ home run season, I’m shocked there isn’t more anticipation for a bounceback from a “down” year. Of course the giant hits the ball hard, but he led baseball in Avg Exit Velocity and Hard Hit % each of the last 2 seasons. His consistency in offensive performance is great in terms of hard contact and plate discipline. This is a great indicator that he can handle adjustments to major league pitching. The only change was a dip in Launch Angle. His Avg LA dropped 3.4 degrees and Barrels/PA went from an mlb leading 12.8 to 8.6. A slight tweak and he’s back to posting MVP numbers.
Joey Votto (#36 overall, #4 1B)
1 year ago, Joey Votto was talked about as possibly the toughest out of any MLB hitter. His profile never really played best in roto formats, but he’s consistently been worthy of a 2nd or 3rd round pick. 2018 was a down year where he “merely” hit .284 with a .417 OBP and a shockingly low 12 HRs. One of the best hitters in the game somehow ended up with worse numbers by dramatically increasing his line drive rate. Votto is notorious for experimenting on his swing and approach to refine his game. He is an older player, but his talent has not diminished at all as his hard hit % was higher than ever last year. I believe Votto will prove that 2018 was the outlier in production rather than the start of a decline.
Max Muncy (#57 overall, #7 1B, #11 3B)
It no coincidence that all the standout players in my rankings have incredible plate discipline. Muncy was phenomenal last year and was the Dodgers best hitter. It seems like many people assume Muncy’s numbers will decline due to regression, but he didn’t outperform his peripherals; he just got A LOT better. His BABIP was only .299 with the league avg being .296. His 29.4% HR/FB rate can be mostly explained by his 9.4 Barrels/PA, which was 9th best in baseball. He showed he can handle lefties just fine with an .891 OPS and his production was consistent throughout the whole season. People are worried about his playing time, but he’s so good that the Dodgers will slot him into the middle of the order every day.
Tyler Glasnow (#149 overall, #39 SP, #17 RP)
This list has been mostly hitters so far because the mid tier of starters is not very polarizing. Around this range, however, is where the quality and security drops off significantly, so the 40-60ish SP is quite a mess. Glasnow was a top prospect with the Pirates, but couldn’t find the zone with any consistency and was moved to the pen. He was traded to the Rays last season and moved into their rotation. The Rays did their thing and got his BB% down 6% and started working his slider and changeup in at a higher rate. The 25 year old pumps a 96.6 mph avg fastball and can now throw it over the plate along with his nasty offspeed pitches. He could easily become a top 10 pitcher if he keeps this up with the Rays.
Tyler Skaggs (#154 overall, #41 SP)
This injury plagued Angels starter managed a career high 125.1 IP, but his season numbers were blown up by a few starts he made pitching while injured. In 2018, Skaggs dealt with recurring groin and adductor injuries that had him on and off the DL for most of the second half of the season. While healthy though, he was fantastic; posting a 2.62 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 25% K% in 110 IP through July 25 (start before injury). Granted, there is plenty of injury risk based on his history, but the 27 year old is completely healthy going into 2019 and the you will probably want the returns of a 30 start season if he stays that way.
More players coming soon
First, I will share my general observations of the fantasy landscape this season and outline my personal strategy. Then I will go through the main formats and explain which players to target in each.
As I mentioned earlier, starting pitching is probably the shallowest position and I believe it's more crucial than ever to draft top tier pitchers early on. Only 58 pitchers qualified for the ERA title last season, which is less than 2 per team on average. Personally, I am more inclined to take a risk and get at least one starter in the first 2 rounds.
As for the hitting positions, I would say in this order that the deepest positions are 3B, SS, OF, 1B, 2B, C. As the draft progresses, pay attention to which positions are going quickly and which positions you still need to fill. Do not use my (or any other) rankings strictly for each pick. Instead be flexible and use it as a reference.
The most important part of any draft is understanding the scoring and roster structure of your league. Players’ values can differ drastically depending on these factors. Here are a few to consider in specific formats:
Consistent performance is key for this format. Players with extreme home/road or lefty/righty splits are less valuable because they can’t be counted on in weeks with undesirable matchups (Ex. Ian Desmond).
In most points leagues, strikeouts and walks contribute to player value. Players with strong BB/SO ratios are more valuable (Ex. Carlos Santana).
Winning now is still the priority, but looking ahead to future years is important too. Young players rise, older players fall. (Ex. Juan Soto).
I know this section was brief, but I will write more on league formats in the future.
Rankings will be updated every Friday moving forward. Make sure you’re aware of any headlines or injuries that impact the rankings.
Listen to the Beat The Shift Fantasy Baseball Podcast every Friday. I’ll be doing an in depth break down of my rankings over the next several weeks.
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Have questions you want answered on the podcast? Want me to write about any particular player? Think my rankings are whack and want to trash talk me? Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @beattheshiftBP or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.